Re: The sound of "o"...

David L. Moore (
Wed, 18 Sep 1996 16:26:32 -0400

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> At 4:11 PM -0500 9/17/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
> >Sorry to bring up an old theme, but there is a new twist...
> >
> >I'm interested in the pronunciation of omikron in the NT period and in
> >standard
> >scholarly "Erasmian" pronunciation. I just heard a CD from Parson's technology
> >which pronounces it like "o" in "Bob". I have always pronounced it like "o" in
> >"obey", and I believe that this is the pronunciation in modern Greek.

> >I have two questions:
> >
> >1. Do some scholars pronounce it this way, or do they all pronounce it
> >like "o"
> >in "Bob"? The practical question is, will people laugh at me if I continue to
> >pronounce it like "o" in "obey" ;-> I notice that books vary. Machen says that
> >it is pronounced like "o" in "obey". JACT says "o" as in "pot". Robertson's
> >short grammar says that "There was little difference in sound, if any, between
> >the sounds o, w, and ou. They were sounded nearly like our oo (not a
> >dipthong)."
> >Does he really mean "oo" as in "boot"?
> I don't really think so--I think he really means that they were all pretty
> much like the "o" sound in "boat." The problem is: WHEN were they all
> sounded similarly, if ever?
> If you really want to get into this, you're going to have to look at Sidney
> Allen's book. I will only say that my own understanding of the
> pronunciation of these "o" sounds in _5th-4th century Attic_ is that "O" is
> a short closed "o" perhaps like the "o" in "go"; "OU" is a long closed "o",
> probably more like the "o" in "blow"; "W" is a long open "o" perhaps
> something like the "o" in "Offenbach."
> >2. How was this pronounced in NT Greek, anyways, or was there variation?
> HOWEVER, my understanding is that by the NT period, "OU" has come to be
> like the "oo" in "boot"; it is also used to represent the sound of the
> Latin consonantal U (i.e. V) in proper names: e.g. Latin VERGILIUS = Greek
> What I teach is pronunciation of Omicron pretty much like the "o" in "off,"
> Omega like an English long "o" as in "pole," and "OU" like the "oo" in
> "boot." I am under no illusion that this is the pronunciation ever used at
> any particular time for Greek. I teach this pattern so that there will be a
> reasonably clear distinction between the O-sounds (and it's also the way I
> was taught).
> The subject is an interesting one, to be sure, but I think one has to
> distinguish sharply between the pronunciation of Greek as a body of facts
> regarding any particular time and place where Greek was spoken and written
> and the pronunciation of Greek as a pedagogical convention.

One of the most important influences active in the Koine period affecting
phonetics is the leveling of the tonal accent to one purely of stress. This took
place as peoples who had no tonal accent in their mother tongues began to take up
Koine Greek as their _lingua franca_. So it is not surprising that the sounds of
O and W came into close approximation much earlier in Egypt (2nd Cent. B.C) than
in Attica (2nd Cent. A.D.) (W. F. Howard, in Moulton II:73), since the latter
had Greek as its native language.

Dr. Hobbs has pointed out, in a post of about a month ago, that Greek was
pronounced differently in different parts of the world, and so one cannot speak
absolutely about a New Testament period pronunciation. Nevertheless, certain
general phonetic influences can be identified; and 1st- and 2nd-Century
pronunciation in some areas (Egypt for instance) can be described with some

On the pronunciation of O and W, Howard comments specifically that the
levelling of all three accents to an equivalent stress reduced to a minimum the
differnce beween long and short vowels in pronunciation, "imparting the quality
of length to the stressed sylllable alone." "Quantitative levelling," he
observes, was not complete in i/A.D., but the distinction between O and W,... was
becoming very slight. It follows that when texts were transmitted to any extent
orally, such distinctions as that of EXOMEN and EXWMEN were very easily lost"
(_Ibid._, p.56).

To Carl's bibliographical mention of Sidney Allen's book, I would also
add pp. 35-114 in Howard's _Accidence and Word-Formation_ in Vol. II of Moulton's
series, _Grammar of New Testament Greek_.

All the best,

David L. Moore                             Director
Miami, Florida, USA                        Department of Education                     Southeastern Spanish District            of the Assemblies of God